Depression – A Coping Mechanism

robin_williams_300Depression – A Coping Mechanism

In the wake of Robin Williams successful but tragic suicide, the topic of depression has once again come to the fore.

Unfortunately, the coverage of the death of Lauren Bacall the very next day provided a diversion and an excuse to turn away from the topic of depression and the uncomfortable truth that 1 in 6, and in some places 1 in 5, people are on anti-depressants.

People who have severe clinical depression because of a real chemical imbalance in their brains need medication like this, of course, and thank God it’s available to them. It works wonders for that kind of thing.

However, the vast majority of those 1 in 5 being prescribed anti-depressants are surely not clinically depressed. If they are, then something very serious is happening to us en masse.

But, I don’t think that’s the case. People are just generally pissed off and don’t really know why, or don’t know what to do about it. But given our present approach to the treatment of depression, the 1 in 5 are numbed out with medication.

In the discussions I heard on UK radio and television these last few days, I have heard a lot about the effects of depression, one of which is suicide, but almost nothing about the cause. Just declaring it an illness, like it is something that just happens for no apparent reason is no help at all. There must be a cause.

Depression is not an emotion. It is a coping mechanism. It’s a way to avoid dealing with the emotional pain that is just under the surface, turned inwards and manifesting as feelings of unworthiness, self hatred and utter futility.

It has been my observation over the last 20 years working with basically well people in my practice, that this kind of depression is simply a mask. Underneath that depression is repressed rage, fear, resentment, shame and guilt – you name it. And most of it has its origins in unresolved childhood wounds.

Nine times out of ten, once you deal with those wounds and the repressed hurt and pain associated with them, the depression lifts. The need for the coping mechanism goes away.

A member of my own extended family had suffered serious bouts of depression. After some discussion we discovered his pain related not to the fact he was adopted but that his own birth mother had abandoned him. Deep down he felt he was not wanted and not worthy to be alive. I helped deal with that. He is now functioning extremely well, albeit with some medication at a relatively low dose.

I have had great success with this over the years using the Radical Forgiveness methodology. This has proven to be a very successful way of healing childhood wounds and restoring the person’s self-worth.

On the BBC today, a psychiatrist made the point that the earlier you can catch it, the better. I agree – but please not just with a pill that will only numb the pain again. If, instead, we give them a way to heal those wounds, their symptomology wouldn’t develop into full blown clinical depression that might then, at that point, need medication.

19 thoughts on “Depression – A Coping Mechanism

  1. Louise Bostock

    I have to agree with your comments on this. I would go further to say not only do we have to catch the conflicts that arise in us as a result of childhood wounds, we also need to reassess how we see and treat our children, enabling them to see clearly, to trust us, and to be absolutely certain of our unconditional love and our refusal to judge them. So many children are forced by their parents into unnatural roles – to do well at all costs, to be tough, to be beautiful. So many children are denied the comfort of their mother’s close physical presence from a very early age. In this sense, I think you are right that there is something terrible happening to us en masse. If we were to change our way of raising our children (and this means a fundamental change in ourselves) I think we would prevent much of the inner conflict that leads to depression in the teenage years and beyond.

    Thank-you for your book, Radical Forgiveness, which I have just read. It was most helpful in breaking the block in my thinking and my life that led me to the brink in recent weeks. I am very grateful.

  2. iiris bjornberg Finland

    Thank You Colin! This came right at the right time – like always. We are confronted by new situations our whole life through and a tool to cope with the feelings that arise is essential, crucial, for our well-being. Radical Forgiveness should win the Nobel Peace Prize. In my heart, you’ve got it Colin!
    With huge gratitude,
    iiris in Finland

  3. Philip

    Thank you for the honesty of your comments Colin. Everybody is afraid of blame and so telling it as it is feared. If a suicide happens, a childhood cause might seem to point at the parents, who while grieving are not in a strong position to understand responsibility without blame. Thats why the work in psychotherapy of people like Alan Schore needs to be brought into the consciousness of the people.
    When we look back at horrors that happened in the past we are rightly upset and sometimes disgusted but we assume that there are no issues today. Somehow those foolish people in the past made mistakes but we couldn’t do it now.
    This blinds us to our present horrors and worse prevents them from being addressed.
    With respect to chemical imbalance in the brain, that too must have a cause. It is likely that brain chemistry is a function of thought/belief and there are studies that show that emotions have a physical reality in the form of neuroproteins.
    Real understanding and real forgiveness is the only way that the world can understand it is creating its own problems and offer hope of release to us. Education is the key to bringing this gently to light and allowing people to see the beliefs that hide in our individual and collective unconscious.
    Thank you so much for your work.
    I hope to become a coach for Radical Forgiveness soon and am working on my own mad beliefs at present.

  4. Nicholas

    It is my experience that clinical depression is eminently healable. In 1976 I lapsed into a severe clinical depression due to an emotional conflict I did not then understand. After wasting eight months with a psychiatrist and drugs I learned about orthomolecular medicine, a.k.a. mega-vitamin therapy. A holistic M.D. put me on the right diet with lots of supplements. I healed of the depression in seven weeks. Eight years later I discovered rebirthing, a form of yoga breathing. In two sessions it gave me emotional stability. A number of breathing sessions later I was freed of the childhood pain that was the basis of the emotional conflict. I point people toward these natural healing modalities for which they are very grateful. Robin Williams had the wrong doctor. But then, wasn’t that part of his soul contract?

  5. Roslyn Halperin

    For more information and for those interested CCHR lists the effects of anti depressants -one of them being people can be suicidal .And that all the children in the school shootings and adults in other shootings have all been on anti depressants of one kind or another . The video of the children who have killed themselves really touched me and so i have been mentioning this every chance i get.. the majority dont believe it . or dont want to believe it.. I have to wonder if Robin Williams was on meds? and if that was a huge factor and if he had been clean of them he could have handled all the other health issues. . But since they are often addictive people need to have help to get off them as well … CCHR has links to alternatives and to people who help with that if one is so inclined.

  6. lisa weinstock

    I do not believe the death of Lauren Bacall took anything away from all the media attention on depression and suicide. I am sure there are some cases where what you say holds true, however I believe it is not accurate to make a statement that all depression is from childhood wounds. I agree this can be true for many but not all cases. The brain is an organ that can have malfunctions,just like all other organs and being made up of chemicals is prone to having imbalances occur. This is when.meds can help. I certainly dont trust the pharmaceutical industry and am against their heavy marketing of drugs to the public and I am a vegetarian am and live a holistic lifestyle as much as possible. Yet I absolutely believe there can be a biochemical component which is also why hereditary factors support with families having similar issue. I dont mean siblings who grew in same environment but I see with cousins,etc. I believe any extreme conclusions are not fair. My brother committed a month ago and shared similar brain issues as my father who were raised by different parents. Is that coincidence? I think there are many factors…some absolutely linked to brain chemistry imperfections which are no different than.other organ malfanctions , environmental ..such as spouses or partners, jobs,etc, and then of course influences from the past. Thats my opinion. Few have ideal childhoods as life is not ideal yet believe the human spirit has great ability to adapt and heal,but if predisposition to imperfect brain organ or other hormonal issues, sometimes meds may make all the difference in the world. Maybe in world..especially the countries where perfectionism is so is USA and Japan…campaigns for accepting imperfections were promoted would help as well. I certainly agree with what u share just not find conclusive to all who face depression.I am grateful for your
    great work and do believe if my brother forgave himself he would be alive. Yet believe it was from brain chemistry issues he had distorted perceptions as he was one of the best kindest wonderful people than ever lived.

  7. SistahCare

    I think we must always be clear that the nature of one’s depressive behaviors causes may be environmental, biological or social , or combination of them all. I think that those who are in the helping profession, must do no harm in helping people become better problem solvers. There is a huge difference between coaching and counseling.

  8. Roland

    Suicid reminds us of the lack of true thankfulness that to some extend is in all of us
    It is the feeling of lacking some-thing, some emotion of not being enough, being loved enough, rather than being truly thankful for what we have and enjoy around us in our lives.
    It is a sad expression of not enough thankfulness that suicid exposes to those who are left behind
    Let’s be more thankful every day for everything and for the self chosen opportunity to experience this human existence and wake up
    This should take care of depression and replace the pills
    Thank you Colin

  9. Lorraine Andrews

    Thank you for your great work in Radical Forgiveness and for this article about depression. I am one who has been to the bottom (trying to commit suicide and losing an arm). I had been molested as a child and abused verbally. After trying to overcome by many trips to mental hospitals and still in lifetime therapy, working with many forms of alternate medicine, as well as antidepressants and tranquilizers, my husband and I went to a lecture in 1974 and heard about the organization Recovery, Inc. A lady told me of a local group that met once a week, and I was excited when I found the others had the same symptoms and were functioning. From there, with the simple, structured method formed by the late Dr. Abraham A. Low, I gradually returned to good mental health, lost since at least 11 years of age. This method teaches forgiveness, self control, and thoughtfulness of others, and values inner peace as our supreme value.

  10. Davina Kotulski, Ph.D. Psychologist

    Colin, I appreciate your newsletters and your very thoughtful and honest perspectives on this issue and so many others. I agree that depression is the result of unexpressed emotions and unprocessed pain. Your books are so helpful and I constantly refer my clients to then as ways to forgive self and others and deal with that unprocessed shame, anger, hurt, etc. I am grateful to see that Robin Williams’ tragic death is offering an opportunity for society to wake up and engage in meaningful dialogue about depression, suicide, treatment of depression, and the overreliance, as well as the limitations, of paychotpsychotropic medication. I can already see that there is a light for all of us in his dark tunnel and hope we can use his tragic death as an opportunity for greater healing and awakened consciousness.

  11. Ed Mowrey

    Colin, good blog topic. I agree with almost much of what you say, most especially your suggestion that Radical Forgiveness can help. I know this to be true from my personal experience as a lifetime sufferer of severe Clinical Depression, and from seeing positive results for some of my Radical Forgiveness Coaching clients. Radical Forgiveness works!

    You correctly point out that depression is a coping mechanism which can be treated by getting in touch with the underlying wounds and repressed emotions. This is true even for severe Clinical Depression, however it be defined. Dealing with those wounds is exactly what Radical Forgiveness does best.

    On the other hand, while I don’t want to take away from that very important message, I strongly disagree with a several of your sweeping generalizations about the diagnosis and treatment of depression. My credentials for speaking on this topic include my having suffered through many decades with severe Clinical Depression, all the while digging into its causes and treatments and trying just about everything that’s out there to treat it–all kinds of workshops and therapy, reading every significant book on the subject–a lifetime of relentless research and work to free myself from the terrible disease of depression. Becoming a certified Radical Forgiveness Coach was certainly a huge benefit for me.

    First, I take issue with your disdainful assertion that depression is somehow a non-disease, and that “the vast majority of those 1 in 5 being prescribed anti-depressants are surely not clinically depressed.” Wrong. The vast majority ARE clinically depressed. And, yes, “something very serious is happening to us en masse.”

    Accepting that we have a pandemic of depression is a much needed step to get more and better treatment for those who suffer from this terrible disease. There is, in fact, a need to identify MORE cases of depression so we can get help to those whose lives are being ruined while they deny having “a disease”. And, by the way, MEN are by far more likely to deny depression and try to “shake it off” or “push through it” without help. [If anyone reading this wants to read more on that topic, find Dr. Chet Zelasko’s message in response to Robin Williams’ suicide at drchet dot com (]

    Secondly, you suggest that a diagnosis of Clinical Depression should be limited to those who suffer “because of a real chemical imbalance in their brains”. Absent any valid medical/biochemical lab test to determine IF a patient actually has a biochemical imbalance, there remains ONLY one way to diagnose Clinical Depression–an expert assessment by a qualified practitioner: Does the patient present with the classic signs of depression? These include, but are not limited to the presence of certain physical symptoms–a persistent lack of energy, anhedonia, loss of focus and interest, and issues with sleep, food, appetite, and so on. Whether there be a biochemical imbalance or not, Clinical Depression is Clinical Depression, and depression is depression. All types of depression need to be respected and treated. The difference between depression and Clinical Depression is only a matter of degrees and diagnosis.

    Thirdly, it is a terrible idea to suggest that using anti-depressants results in being “numbed out” (as you say). That’s an incorrect assumption and a fear-bearing myth that dissuades some patients from using anti-depressants. Without the pharmaceutical help, some people are literally too depressed to deal with the disease–e.g. too depressed to even try Radical Forgiveness. They don’t avail themselves of the anti-depressants that might relieve their symptoms enough that they get free enough from depression to even consider other ways to treat their depression. Pharmaceuticals don’t cure depression, but they can help.

    Being a Radical Forgiveness Coach, I wish I could say that Radical Forgiveness is THE answer. It has been a HUGE HELP for me personally for the last 11 years, and I’ve seen some of my Radical Forgiveness Coaching clients use it to pretty much eliminate depression from their life–if they took the coaching, used the tools, and really embraced it as part of their life.

    For my own chronic and very severe Clinical Depression, however, Radical Forgiveness has helped me cope and stay alive long enough to find yet another much needed tool–the only one I’d even consider calling “THE answer,” although no such single answer exists. I want to mention this tool here for the sake of any depressed readers looking for another tool. The tool I’m referring to is Clinical Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Of course Radical Forgiveness is deeply informed by the same concepts that CBT uses, but I decided to become an “expert” at CBT itself. It has changed my life. I have not had a single episode of depression since I started practicing CBT diligently and daily (while continuing to use Radical Forgiveness, of course). For further reading, I recommend the book “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, M.D.

    Well, it looks like I’ve upheld my reputation as a man who rarely writes short messages! In this case, I feel good to have written at length, because if even one depressed reader is helped by this, it’s worth it. Thanks for reading. Ed Mowrey ( or

  12. Leif

    Agreed, 100%. In my case it was years of unwillingness to address or consider addiction and the causes of addiction that led to my depression and anxiety, my feelings of worthlessness, and my self-hatred. Only after hitting “rock-bottom”, finding an untapped source of courage, and reaching out for help (thank God) instead of drugs or suicide was I able to move forward with treatment. Yes, a small dosage of anti-depression medication is part of my tools of recover, but only a very small part. Self-forgiveness, spirituality, reintegrating into communities after years of isolation, rigorous honesty with myself and others, exercise and other forms of self-care are the other tools.

    I’m also very grateful to the GP who listened to my needs, and prescribed mindful meditation to me instead of drugs. She gave me the option for drugs but asked I try meditation for 2 weeks and come back afterwards if I wanted to. With that I was able to help myself to rebuild my self-esteem bit by bit, as well as strenghthen my mind and realize I don’t have to engage in the thoughts that had plagued me for so many years.


  13. Gabrielle

    Thank you, thank you and thank you.

    I read your book” Radical Forgiveness.”one year ago and have diligently been doing the worksheets for the past year .
    I suffered from depression for as long as I can remember…..I am now a very proud 55 years old woman….and I am finally free of this “monster”.

    I had repressed memories for close to 40 years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of both my uncle and my father and when they slowly started to surface, I knew my life challenge had just begun. I needed to heal myself by looking to forgive the exact people who had harmed me so many years ago.

    It was only after reading and re-reading your book that I had the courage to confront both my abusers…..safely encased in the wisdom that your book had taught me.

    And as the veil of secrecy had been lifted so did my depression.

    I truly wish that everyone would be open to your Radical Forgiveness plan.
    It takes a lot of faith and self love to move forward out of old patterns and your book helped open new paths of forgiveness for me

    Thank again for teaching me ….that it is safe to move up and out of all too familiar,unsuccessful coping skills to a….. LIFE OF FORGIVENESS.


  14. Marja-Leena Paakkunainen

    Boundless Thanks Colin for your sharing, your work.
    And also Thank You, Robin Williams for what you shared, how you enable us to talk about and see depression, to talk about and see ourselves. A big step towards do-not-have-to-hide.

    I have to ask if suicide is tragic? for whom? (I´m not excluding the feelings here.) Does not this include the thought of believing in death, believing in body, not spirit. Is it not this, that depresses us, to not see/remember what we are? Is it not our deepest fear that we are separated, alone and outside. Is it not our deepest wish to be accepted just as we are? To be able to just be.
    All the time I have a partner with me; one is acceptance (love, real forgiveness) and the other, not acceptance (fear, guilt). It´s up to me to choose. In this process there is always a therapist available, the Holy Spirit, who just waits for the possibility to guide and help. I just have to remember and ask because He is not forcing, He is in no hurry.

    Marja-Leena, Finland

  15. Tim Prentiss

    I would like to follow up on Marja-Leena’s comment, and ask whether this suicide was tragic at all. Robin Williams was a comedian with great energy and vocal control, who was facing a future with Parkinson’s disease, according to his wife. It might have been more tragic to have seen him live through years of physical and verbal decline, either playing out in public, or hidden from his public.

    It seems that looking at it from the soul’s perspective (if you use that term), he might have come to an agreement with his wife to become a beloved comedian who would have his gifts taken away from him through disease. The question is how would he deal with that, perhaps in order to bring attention to one or another areas of pain in a presumably happy life.

    Is there something we can learn from the way this played out? One thing I realized from Robin’s actions is that committing suicide is the only way to guarantee you die on a slow news day. And even then, something may come along to take the wind out of the sails of remembrance.

    1. Colin

      For Robin it was not tragic. He did what was right for him and I support that. But for us left behind we feel the (tragic)loss of him, and that is real emotion. There is much we can learn from all this and I appreciate the many thoughtful comments that have come in so far. I am humbled.

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